The importance of selling strategically is an idea repeated time and time again – the larger and more complex the sale, the louder the advice. However, advising someone to sell strategically is somewhat like suggesting they “sell smart.”
Great advice, but a little vague unless you can provide some specifics about the how to.
Let’s start by examining some of the fundamentals for developing an account strategy – beginning with an actionable definition: An account strategy is a plan of action for getting to the right person, at the right time, with the right message.
When thinking about what it takes in a major account to formulate a winning sales strategy, a good starting point is remembering the buying environment is complex. Many decision-makers and influencers are involved, the needs and issues are multi-layered and the solution configuration and implementation management is likely to be complex and sophisticated.
In major accounts, one-size-does-not-fit-all is a cornerstone proposition for formulating a winning account strategy. There are no generic customers in major accounts. So there are no winning generic account strategies. Each customer is unique and each major account strategy must take that uniqueness into consideration.
Here are three pitfalls that will make a successful account strategy less likely.
- Underestimating the importance of information is the first pitfall. Collecting, analyzing, and utilizing information about the customer is the starting point to develop any effective plan of action for getting to the right person, at the right time, with the right message. And, getting that right requires the recognition that breadth comes before depth.
There is neither the need, nor the time to find out everything about everything all at once. It’s important to get a broad information base about the customer even before your sales process starts and to build upon it early in the sales cycle. This provides the foundation for formulating an initial strategy and provides guidance as to where and how to get in-depth information. The trap is getting a lot of information about the wrong things from the wrong people.
- Confusing goals and strategy. A list of goals is not a strategy. It is just a long list of things to do. A good account strategy, in contrast, focuses on a few pivotal goals and then delineates the challenges, resources, and actions necessary to achieve a favorable outcome – what needs to be done and how are you going to do it.
A correlated trap is substituting blue-sky ideas for pivotal goals using buzzwords like customer-centric that are just vague statement about some desired end state.
- Assuming the future looks like the past. We live and sell in a time of “compressed history.” Changes driven by the global market and advances in manufacturing technologies make the past a bad predictor of the future. As a result competitive advantages that once lasted a long time now disappear quickly. In major accounts, if you want to prosper, assuming what worked in the past will work in the present is a risky premise.
To avoid these pitfalls, one overarching best practice needs to be remembered. In order to think and act effectively throughout the entire sales cycle, your sales strategy requires constant updating. Success cannot be achieved by filing out a form and periodically checking off key milestones. It requires understanding and reacting to the changes in the account and reviewing the responses to those changes with your sales manager and the rest of the sales team on the account.
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